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We often search externally to find what we can blame our latest mood or irritability on, however, is it really in our control? No matter how perfect our scenario may seem, we may not feel that sense of happiness or calmness we deserve. In these moments, it can seem impossible to understand that it may be something internal that is going on… a nutrient deficiency, some inflammation, an imbalance in your gut flora… really?! But it is true. All these factors play huge roles in how we feel. Here are some key elements to consider when you are aiming to balance our moods, because we all deserve a slither of happiness and a sense of calm no matter what life is throwing at us!
How you feel may not necessarily be directly controlled by YOU! Mood regulating hormones (neurotransmitters) are mostly produced in our gut by our gut bacteria. This includes serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, GABA, adrenaline, noradrenaline and more. In simple terms, these regulate how you feel, whether that be happy, sad, anxious, irritable, stressed and/or your ability to sleep or not sleep! For example, 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut! When you have low levels of particular microbes, you may not produce enough of these hormones, and when you have too much of particular microbes, you may produce too much of these hormones. This is why we need to create a balance in your gut bacteria. Incorporating beneficial bacteria can make the world of a difference, through foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir and more. There are many probiotics on the market, however if they do not have the food component along with the probiotics they may not be doing everything you want them to. Aim for probiotics in the food source if possible. For example, lactobacillus is a probiotic strain often found in raw fermented foods that has been shown to regulate our GABA receptors, which in turn improves our mood and reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. Fecal transplants, probiotics and prebiotics have all been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, which essentially, is just making us happier and less moody!
The nutrients in our food have a purpose, one of the most important being that it provides us with nutrients that will assist our mental health. Whilst there are many nutrients that balance our mood, a few critical nutrients include magnesium, B12, B6, iodine, iron and much more. For example, iodine is crucial for mental health including cognitive performance, one reason being due to its close relation with the production of thyroid hormones. Another example is B12, which assists our energy production, clarity and is extremely important for balanced moods, and a deficiency has been linked with anxiety and depression. And last but not least, magnesium is required for sufficient amounts of serotonin in the brain, which is the neurotransmitter that brings us happiness! A deficiency of magnesium is associated with symptoms including irritability, anxiety and depression.
Nutrients are far more powerful in their wholefood state rather than in isolation via supplements, therefore if you are going to supplement with any nutrient then you want to ensure you are at least increasing the food source too! Liver is a fantastic source of B12, B6, iron and zinc, which you can either incorporate into your meals a few times a week, or utilise it as medicine and consider a powdered or capsule version. Pate is a condiment that is a great way to get plenty of liver into you, and it is delicious! Kelp is a beautiful source of iodine, which you could incorporate into your diet via kelp flakes, kelp seaweed sheets and make sushi or use kelp noodles instead of pasta or added into soups. You may also be extremely happy to hear to incorporate the purest forms of chocolate! Cacao is not only rich in magnesium, however is also rich in theobromine which is a gentle energy enhancer and mood booster, and another compound known as phenylethylamine, which is considered a ‘natural antidepressant’! Let’s also not forget vegetables. Not only are they rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, it is also their fibre content that feeds our beneficial gut bacteria that greatly enhances our overall moods.
Inflammation can directly impact how we feel mentally and physically. When there is lingering inflammation, you may feel irritable, experience low or erratic moods, be anxious, depressed and more. In short, inflammation is our immune system response, and a variety of foods have the ability to either enhance or reduce inflammation. It is critical to remove foods that may be triggering an immune system response in your body and therefore leading to prolonged inflammation, and therefore lack of mental health. As everyone is an individual, it can be that you need to find what the foods are that your body is reacting to, however it may be considered to eliminate or reduce the most popular foods that are known to cause a level of inflammation in some people. These include gluten, dairy, corn, soy and vegetable oils. It is not to say to eliminate these forever, it is simply to find what may be triggering your own personal inflammation, or to consume these foods in their purest form and prepared traditionally. For example, gluten is much better tolerated when it is fermented - such as a sourdough bread!
Adaptogens are a group of herbs that have been shown to assist with our mood. They help us ‘adapt’ to situations in our life that may be perceived as stressful. Ashwaghanda is one type of adaptogen, and I have to say that it is my favourite! It has been shown to calm anxiety, reduce our stress response, improve our mood and sleep. Other adaptogens include herbs such as tulsi, korean ginseng, rhodiola and more, which have all been shown to have their individual benefits on our mood.